And tap again, ad nauseum. Congratulations, you’ve just experienced the self proclaimed ‘best adventure RPG of 2015′, Game Hive Corps’ Tap Titans.
As a game designer, you all too often see behind the curtain and see games for what they are. You notice particle systems, AI systems, repetitive game loops and so on. One of the many tools in the game designer’s arsenal is the skinner box. This fascinating experiment involved conditioning animals to behave a certain way through positive or negative reinforcement. During one of Skinner’s experiments, rats were trained to push levers and they receive a snack. Eventually the rats got bored of this and stopped tapping, so the researchers changed the levers to deploy snacks randomly. Sometimes taps would produce nothing, at other times, a delicious piece of cheese, or a nut, for example. Unsurprisingly, the rats became hooked. The random element changed everything, and the rats would press the buttons and levers for hours on hours, even when they were no longer hungry. Game designers have taken this element and applied it to games for many years, most of the time subtly, and sometimes, cynically.
Which brings us to ‘Tap Titans’, an RPG incarnation of the hugely popular Cookie Clicker that took the world by storm a few years ago. In Tap Titans, you control an unnamed hero confronting a series of enemies, one after the other. To defeat aforementioned enemies, you tap the screen. The enemy has a health bar, you have a series of damage meters. If your numbers are higher than the enemy’s numbers, you’ll defeat the enemy – and that’s it. Almost all RPGs use a similar system, but there’s nothing like a cookie clicker to show it for what it is. A spreadsheet of numbers where if A>B , you will win.
So, in Tap Titans, you tap away until you the enemy is defeated – you don’t even take any hits yourself. You can walk away, get a coffee, come back and your little warrior is still slashing away. Eventually, you’ll face a boss , and lo, what is this? An actual event? With consequences? Barely. Here at least you have a timer countdown – defeat the boss before it reaches zero, or try again ( with no penalty, of course.)
Once you’ve felled a foe, you earn some gold with which to purchase heroes for hire and special abilities you can use. These add a modicum of strategy as you can actually choose when to deploy a spell, and so on. There are plenty of locations, monsters, heroes, achievements to earn and so on -but essentially they’re pointless because you’re not actually doing anything. You’re looking at different wallpapers while a number counts down to zero.
That’s what a cookie clicker is. They are massively addictive probably amongst the most addictive of all games in fact. Just like the rat in the skinner box, you’re conditioned to tap, tap, tap away, even when the game is no longer fun.
Look, the presentation, art design and polish in Tap Titans is lovely. The art style is totally endearing and memorable – I take my hat off to the art team – the backgrounds are simple but evocative, and the creature design is clever and animated beautifully.
There’s only the barest pretence of any kind of story, setting or motive, because the developers are unashamed about what this is. A game in its loosest term, a fascinating social experiment in human conditioning and an utter, massive time sink that you’re better off staying well away from. This could be so much better – the art deserves a better game and so does the audience.
Of course, there’s all manner of in-app purchases, gem packs and so on, ranging from a dollar up to over a hundred dollars – because , sure why not. If your time is too valuable to tap forever, why not get the computer to tap for you for the bargain price of $129.99. This is the kind of bullshit that’s infected the mobile games space like a bubonic plague over the last few years and totally devalued games in general – because small, independent game studios now must give away their games for free and literally trick people into parting with cash, or get them so addicted they’ll keep spending even though they stopped enjoying the product long ago.
If From Software’s Dark Souls were a delicious meal slow cooked over 8 hours, Tap Titans is like eating a Burger Ring every second for the same duration. Both are going to fill you up but only one of them will leave you feeling satiated. The other will leave you retching, sore and sorry. Welcome to Tap Titans, where your life quite literally ebbs away with every pointless tap.
Honestly, don’t waste your time with this one – because that is exactly what Tap Titans is, a waste of time.